• Germany's news in English

Driverless tractors till German high-tech farm

The Local · 21 Jul 2013, 09:01

Published: 21 Jul 2013 09:01 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

But these tractors are steel monsters with a difference - driverless and satellite-guided, they can operate on the fields with an accuracy of a few centimetres.

Impervious to fatigue and indifferent to poor visibility, they reduce distances travelled by each vehicle, saving their owner fuel costs and improving crop yields.

Münchhoff converted his farm in Derenburg, in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, a decade ago following a high-tech trend that is drawing growing interest.

"My job now is management," he says.

With a grey beard and thin glasses, the robust 60-year-old reigns over a 1,000 hectare farm that grows wheat and rapeseed, continuing a long family tradition.

The Münchhoffs have tilled this land for nearly 200 years.

However, his work has changed radically since he turned to "precision agriculture", which started in the United States in the 1980s and employs cutting-edge technologies to separately manage each plot rather than uniformly treat an entire field.

Besides the GPS-guided tractors, Münchhoff has set up optical sensors that can measure the nutritional status of plots and scanners that assess a plot's soil composition, thus reducing fertiliser consumption.

There is an ecological aspect, but the main focus is economic.

In six years, the farmer says he has saved nearly €150,000 ($200,000) by reducing the use of phosphorus and potassium - a significant advantage amid wild swings in commodity prices.

"Twenty years ago, for a field of 100 hectares, we needed 10 tonnes of phosphorus. Today, we need two to five tonnes," said Münchhoff.

On his computer, he scrolls through charts, tables, digital maps and satellite photos, which are now essential tools.

For now, he is still a pioneer.

"Of 280,000 farms in Germany, between 800 and 1,000 use optical sensors," he says.

However, precision agriculture may have bumper times ahead.

"It offers enormous productivity gains and allows for a reduction of resource use at a time of growing environmental regulatory demands," said Oliver Neumann, spokesman for agricultural equipment giant John Deere.

A problem is that the equipment still doesn't come cheap. Some high-tech combine harvesters can cost up to half a million euros.

But "with increasing use, prices should come down for small-scale users," said Neumann.

Story continues below…

Münchhoff said that "even small operations are already using these technologies. They can get together with neighbours and become as profitable as large farms."

These innovations are feeding hopes of overcoming the challenge of exploding global food needs expected in future.

They also offer new opportunities for the agricultural sector, including a demand for more skilled workers, and promise new avenues for business development, especially in software, smartphones or even drones.

Will the machines take over the farm one day?

"I don't see that happening," said Münchhoff, who employs six staff. "They facilitate the work, that's all. They don't make decisions. I make the decisions."

The Local/AFP/pvs

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Munich to get 'nice toilets' to serve cross-legged locals
Photo: DPA

The Bavarian capital has a pee problem - the city only has one public toilet for every 13,000 inhabitants. But a new plan could rescue desperate locals, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reports.

German kids get glowing report for their English skills
Photo: DPA.

As if multilingual Germans don't already put many English-speakers to shame, now the younger generation is improving their English skills even more.

Berlin museum controversially recreates Hitler bunker
The reconstruction of the Hitler bunker. Photo: DPA

Sensationalized or compelling history? Berlin museums clash over new Nazi bunker exhibit

Germans think they're fit, but they're really couch potatoes
Photo: DPA.

There's been an increase in the number of Germans who define themselves as "fit", but their lifestyle choices don't quite match this self-perception.

10 fascinating facts you never knew about German beer
Tennis coach Boris Becker and his wife Lilly at Oktoberfest 2016 in Munich. Photo: DPA

From malt and monks to Radlers and rivalries, the story of German beer is as rich and wonderful as its selection.

Intensive farming 'endangers a third of German species'
Photo: DPA

There are 32,000 species of animal, plant and mushroom life native to Germany. Due to intensive farming methods, one in every three of these is endangered, a new report shows.

German hospital uses therapy to 'treat' paedophiles
A poster from the campaigne "Don't offend", which offers therapy to paedophiles. The sign reads "Do you love kids more than you'd prefer? There's help." Photo: DB Scholz & Friends / DPA.

A unique German initiative is offering therapy to paedophiles to control their urges, with the aim of getting them help before they offend.

Minister: 'no tolerance' for clowns after chainsaw attack
Photo: DPA

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has called for a zero-tolerance approach to 'killer clowns' after a series of attacks culminating in two teenagers being chased by a clown wielding a chainsaw.

Baby who was auctioned on eBay taken away from father
Photo: DPA.

A German court ruled on Thursday that a man who put his one-month-old baby up for sale on the online auction platform eBay should only be allowed contact with the child under supervision.

Portugal's ruling party calls German minister 'pyromaniac'
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Photo: DPA.

The head of Portugal's ruling Socialists called German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble a "pyromaniac" on Thursday after he criticized Lisbon for reversing course on austerity.

10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd